Editors' note: Welcome to the first installment of On the Dot, CNET's biweekly column on the best ways to get on the Internet and make your presence known once you're there. Check in with Matt Lake every other Monday for the latest on ISPs, Web hosting, domain registration, and all things on Internet access.
Somebody at Chase Manhattan bank
just let $46,000 of the company's assets slip through their fingers, and nobody's pressing charges. Why no litigation? Turns out, it wasn't a bank heist or a misappropriation of funds that marched all that cash out the window. It was an administrative error. Someone simply forgot to renew a domain name. And once a choice domain leaves your control, your chances of getting it back without a fight or a pile of cash are very slight indeed.
Like the most successful piñata sharks, the quick and aggressive prospectors get the good stuff.
Specifically, Chase lost carfinancing.com--a nice generic URL that just reeks of business opportunity and can't be contested in a trademark lawsuit. A few weeks after the company failed to reregister, the name fell into a black hole called the domain drop
from which few domain holders ever retrieve their lost goods. A circling mob of domain prospectors wait at the bottom of the domain drop, waiting to snap up any choice names, then resell them. And just like the most successful piñata sharks, the quick and aggressive prospectors get the good stuff.
Sharks in the pool
Carfinancing.com was nabbed by Pool.com
, a company that monitors, picks up, and resells expiring domains. What's its secret? Great timing and fast reflexes. After domains expire, a few weeks elapse before anyone can register them again. Companies such as Pool.com and their bretheren, Domainsbot, and DailyExpiredDomains, have rapid-registration software that picks up domains as soon as they drop back into the pool of available domain names. These companies make their money by having the quickest reflexes when the domains drop; if their automated registration software wins out in the feeding frenzy, they make their commission.
Anyone can backorder expiring domains at these sites, but in the case of multiple bidders, the one with the deepest pockets gets the goods. In the case of carfinancing.com, a Hong Kong investor called Vertical Axis threw down $46,000 for the site, which now contains a short list of pay-per-click car-loan vendors. Top of the list? Not Chase Manhattan. Now, Capital One hawks its goods at carfinancing.com
Ask yourself this: how well are you protecting your domains?
Who knows what Vertical Axis plans to do with the site in the future. For now, the company is nickeling-and-diming its investment back, one click at a time. It could be worse. Some domain Dumpster divers will do whatever they can to turn a profit on the domains they buy. Pop-up-infested ad farms, pay-for-placement pseudodirectories, porn--anything goes, especially on choicer domains.
So ask yourself this question: how well are you protecting your
domains from expiring? How would you react one day if you woke up to a Web site in your name full of pop-ups touting generic Viagra and unlikely physical enhancements?
Don't lose your own carfinancing.com
To avoid the ribbing that some sad sack at Chase is now enduring, you need to keep a tight grip on your domains. It's not difficult to pay an annual registration fee, and you can register your domains for longer if you're the kind of person who plans things out 5 or 10 years in advance. In fact, Network Solutions recently announced that it would even sell you 100-year domain registrations (if you have a grand to spare right now, that is). Sooner or later, your domain will come due, though, so here are a few tips for making sure that you keep it instead of throwing it to the sharks.
Handle it automatically.
Most domain registrars will warn you a month or more before your domain expires. You'll get e-mail instructions, which you should follow to the letter. Some domain registrars will keep a credit card number on file and offer to automatically renew your domains one month before they come due. This no-fuss approach works fine--if they try to charge a card that's expired, they'll dash an e-mail off to you in plenty of time warning you. Unless, that is, your spam filter weeds it out or you break the following cardinal rule of domain control.
Keep your contact info current.
Most of us change e-mail addresses with alarming frequency, and this is the easiest way to lose control of your domain. If the administrative contact address at your domain registrar no longer works--if it's a work address from two jobs past, say, or a free Web mailbox with a long-forgotten password--you'll never get your expiration notification. Registrars that don't use a Web-based control panel (Network Solutions, for example) handle everything by e-mail. And you can't even transfer a domain to a new registrar without a valid contact address.
Pick a day.
Like any annual payment, domain renewal is something you should put on a schedule. Who cares if you registered your domain in on April 21? You can add a year to your subscription any day you choose. If you usually have cash to spare every Memorial Day, make that your own personal Domain Renewal Day. And make it a recurring annual event in your scheduling software.
What's your fate if you don't follow these simple steps? Unless you have a memory like a trapdoor, you might be Pool.com's next customer.
Matt Lake is domain man behind several sites, many of which have expired without his knowledge. Feel free to pillory him or write with questions or suggestions here